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The Island at the Center of the World the Island at the Center of the World the Island at the Center of the World

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  6,152 Ratings  ·  709 Reviews
When the British wrested New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, the truth about its thriving, polyglot society began to disappear into myths about an island purchased for 24 dollars and acartoonish peg-legged governor. But the story of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was merely lost, not destroyed: 12,000 pages of its records-recently declared a national treasure-are now ...more
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Published April 12th 2005 by Vintage Books USA (first published January 1st 2004)
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Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Avigail by: Dorothy Benson
The Island at the Center of the World is a wonderful example of a genre I call "The Superficial History of..." This is not to say that the book is not well-researched, or has a weak, generalized argument; Shorto obviously read exhaustively on the topic and his argument is a salient one. The Island at the Center of the World is the perfect book to introduce readers to the Dutch impact on New York and the legacy of Dutch influence in America.

The book does have its flaws. While generally organized
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fan der Doncks
The story of how Santa Claus came to America is long on extraneous facts and short on compelling narrative. A lot of people really like this book, and I very much enjoyed Shorto's style of writing, but his protagonist, Adriaen Van der Donck, is as dull as paste for at least two reasons:
1. As Shorto points out, most of the information we have on this man has been lost to history. So, Shorto has to "imagine" what Van der Donck was probably doing on many important days. Far too many passages begin
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I was only dimly aware that New York was originally New Amsterdam and that it had been part of the Dutch empire before the British took it over. The Island at the Center of the World is a history of the 40-year period lifespan of the Dutch colony, leading up to the bloodless British victory of 1664.

In reality, the Dutch colony of New Netherland -- of which the city of New Amsterdam was the main settlement -- was not so much a colony as a possession of a private company. That company, the Dutch
Dissertation topics, taken to 30 years research are hard to make interesting, but this author did it, for me. Important read for anyone with Dutch ancestry (like mine) and anyone studying American culture, Manhattan culture, or who wants to view capitalism through a different prism. As melting pot, model of tolerance and opportunity, mecca of creativity in early America... and as a lesson for failure to protect those values... a book packed with examples. A bit dry, but like all the toppings you ...more
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pilgrims and turkeys dominate youthful stories of our country’s founding. Adults regularly hear the truism that Puritanism imbues our culture with strict moralism and inflexibility (and probably nod in agreement). Always we hear of the stalwart British, fighting to control the continent, winning perhaps because they were the most upright. And so we have come to regard our history, written as usual by the victors.

Russell Shorto begs to differ. The Island at the Center of the World seeks to convin
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2004
I picked up The Island at the Center of the World because it directly targets two of my own personal obsessions: New York history and Dutch language. Author Russell Shorto builds it upon thirty years of translation work by a man called Charles Gehring, a specialist in 17th century Dutch who resurrected the complete records of New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlement that is now New York City and environs. Shorto's thesis is that the Dutch colony was more successful and more influential than previousl ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes we read for total pleasure and escape. Sometimes we read because we want to learn something. Sometimes we read because we’ve promised a dear friend we will support her book discussion at the local library even though we’d never select the book for ourselves.

“Island at the Center of the World” falls into the last category, but as I told my dear friend today when I arrived for the discussion, I’m very glad I persevered and read this.

If weren’t forcing me into full stars, I’
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history

Russell Shorto has written a dense, but mostly readable and utterly fascinating history of Manhattan and Dutch history in the 17th century based heavily on colonial New Netherlands documents which remained untranslated (and mostly overlooked by historians) until recent decades, in a translation project that is ongoing.

Thanks to Shorto for an illuminating portrait of Adriaen van der Donck (among others) and van der Donck's era in both Europe and America. His writing sheds light on the special c
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I do appreciate the amount of research that went into this book, the limitations of working with damaged & incomplete records, the authors style was so over-the-top I just barely made it to the end. For every interesting detail there was a fanciful imagining about what else might have happened. It got so bad when I heard (I listened to the book on disc) "let us imagine" or "we can suppose" or some variation I would actually wince. It could have been 1/2 the length & a better book.
Rick Hautala
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A history of Dutch New York (New Amsterdam) ... that is fascinating as well as beautifully written ... with information and humor ... A great book about a little-known aspect of history ... I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Ben Babcock
You have no idea how hard it is for me to spell this title “correctly” (with the American spelling of centre). I have the forbearance of a saint, I swear.

The Island at the Center of the World is about the Dutch colony on Manhattan Island—New Amsterdam and its ancillary towns that would eventually be surrendered to the English and metamorphose into New York and New York state. Russell Shorto wants to bring to light the extensive new work being done on records from that period. For the past thirty
Naomi Weiss
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Complete review is here

Russell Shorto's best-seller saves the Dutch culture of America from being let go. Besides the obvious adage that it is the victors who write history, there are other reasons for the English stranglehold on American history. Shorto humorously explains that American historians found an easier story in Puritan New England than the more rough-and-tumble reality of Dutch Manhattan.

Accounts like that of a woman who, while her husband doze
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

When a very intelligent, perceptive gentleman of good local family recommended this book, I immediately put in an order for it. There's nothing that appeals to me more than local history, and this is local history on only a slightly broader scale.

The Dutch settlement of the colony of New Amsterdam is a little known facet of American history. Recent discovery and translation of the many documents produced by that colony has shed a new light on this early settlement, revealing the vibrant beginnin
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This book is about Manhattan Island under the Dutch in the 1600's. I was interested because we have ancestors who were there, and also because I like to discover history that has been left behind in the standardized anglocentric history that we learn in school. (I'm still a bit upset that we didn't learn about the Spanish in Santa Fe before the Pilgrims got to Plymouth--but then they didn't speak English.) The Dutch colonies were quite interesting and they planted in America some very different ...more
Karen Mardahl
Jan 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It covers the time the Dutch owned/ran/lived in Manhattan. How they got there and what influence they had on America is full of fascinating details uncovered only because some documents managed to survive around 350 years to reveal their secrets slowly, but surely. The information is apparently changing the way historians look at the birth of America. They are moving from the pure British tale to an awareness that the Dutch can be credited with some of the actual laws ...more
Elizabeth Sulzby
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Shorto has given us a description of the Dutch history of Manhattan, Yonkers (Younkers), and the Bronx (de Brounx--?sp.) from lost/forgotten archives in Dutch. I read this book while I was doing a 3 year research project with the poorest schools in the Bronx and after my longtime collaboration with researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands. I also like having a feeling of the land under modern-day NYC. As I had learned more thanks to my Dutch friends of the Golden Age in the lowcountry ...more
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
New Netherland and New Amsterdam were phrases I remembered from dusty history textbooks of 7th grade, but never thought much about until I discovered Russell Shorto's "Island at the Center of the World" through the recommendation of two friends in the upper Hudson Valley. Shorto makes the gritty early days of New York City come alive, telling about its numerous taverns, prostitution and wary dealings with cagey Indians. (He debunks the myth of childlike Indians settling for just a bunch of beads ...more
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a wonderfully written work of non-fiction that illuminates the history of the founding of Manhattan. Russell Shorto brings his characters to life by adopting a style of narrative generally reserved for fiction. These players shaped history, and Shorto draws you into their world with colorful portraits and accurate depictions of the facets of life in the mid-1600s in the wilderness of Manhattan. In capturing both the positive and negative aspects of the founders of Manhattan, Shorto help ...more
This is a thoughtful and very readable look at the years that Manhattan (and much of its surrounding area) was a Dutch colony. Russell Shorto takes the position that the New Netherland colony has been undeservedly forgotten, and that instead of being a "failed colony" it actually had cultural and political influence on what would become the United States of America.

He argues this point fairly well, and I suppose I buy his argument. But what I liked about the book is how it fired my imagination.
E Wilson
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
History is written by the victors. I guess that's why the only thing
I learned in school was that New York was settled by the Dutch and
originally called New Amsterdam and that Peter Stuyvesant had a wooden
I was so interested in Adriaen Van der Donck and think he should be as
noteworthy an early American as William Brewster, John Smith or
John Winthrop. I wonder had he achieved his goal of changing
the government of New Amsterdam from the tyrannical rule of the
East India Company to the represent
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Manhattan, or New Amsterdam as it was known in the 1620s had a short colonization under the Dutch who founded New Netherlands before it was seized by the English in 1664. Under the directorship of Peter Minuit, famous not only for establishing this new colony for the Dutch but for purchasing it from the Indians for $24, this colony was a vigorous and cosmopolitan trading post.

Filled with details about the lives and trials of famous historical figures such as Henry Hudson, after whom the Hudson
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audiobook
This is based upon the audio download from []

Narrated by: L.J. Ganser

The audio version of this book is enhanced through the correct pronunciation of all the Dutch names and words. Rather than wildly guessing as I read it, it is spoken correctly for me.

This is the story of the first multi-ethnic culture in America. Truly, Manhattan has been a melting pot since the founding of New Amsterdam.

I never knew the story behind Dutch Manhattan other than they bought it from the Indians for
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was led to read this by a Book Club and am really glad I was. Otherwise, I'm not sure this would have come across my radar. It is an illuminating look at the earliest settlements in Manhattan, those by the Dutch. Other readings had introduced me to this time period (e.g. Edward Rutherford's "New York"), but this book is more expansive. It not only gives us history, but a look into people we've heard of and those we've not, as well as noting how the Dutch influenced the very character of Americ ...more
Jul 08, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The story of New Amsterdam and of the Dutch in North America is a fascinating one. Unfortunately this book completely fails to do said story justice. After several chapters of Shorto leaping from one piece of trivia to therefore some person "surely must" have done this, been feeling that or said this other thing, I gave up. Given how many layperson history books seem to be based on this leaping narrative, I guess it most sell, but I for one am really sick of it. There are plenty of ways to tell ...more
Frederick Federer
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting early history of Manhattan. Most of the history of the New Netherland colony is not even mentioned in schools because the English eventually took over the colony and all of the historical records are in Dutch, but after reading this I am convinced that NYC would not have become the capitol of the world had it originally been part of the New England colony. I really enjoyed reading all of the bits of early American history trivia (e.g., there was a fairly successful New Sweden colony ...more
Feb 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this one, which might have been a bad move. The thing is, this is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while and never got around to, and it seemed like audio was a good way to knock it off my list, but...I don't know. There's too much there. It was hard to pay close enough attention. Plus I found the reader kind of annoying. I think normal reading is the way to go here.
I was kind of torn about this. On the one hand, it is great history, because it finally tells the story o
Nostalgia Reader
A fascinating history, if a little haphazard in how it's presented. The topic is one that doesn't exactly have the widest variety of sources to go off of, so in sections about certain time periods with lacking primary documents, the narrative was very confusing. It reminded me of a middle school book report, where you have a huge block quote for one paragraph, and then follow that up with two paragraphs barely pertaining to that quote and explaining it. However, when more primary source document ...more
John Behle
Apr 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-fiction fans
Well researched--over 12,000 pages of handwritten original records of New Netherland having now been translated, the unfolding of the epic yarn of the Dutch forerunner to New York is being told. The records were never destroyed, as once thought, only languished on forgotten shelves in musty basements for 300 years.

I read this cleverly crafted book when it hit the market in 2004. This time I let the clarion tones of narrator L.J. Ganser take me by the hand through the tumultuous times of founding
Stephan van Velzen
An amazing book that's taught me a lot of new things. For the first time ever, I understand what American patriotism must feel like.
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of the little known pre-English origins of New York City. It was especially illuminating because I live in, of all places, Stuyvesant Town, named after the most important Dutch director-general of New Netherland. The history of many other local place names (including Yonkers and Brooklyn) is also traced back to the Dutch.
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Russell Shorto is the author of a book on the Dutch origins of New York City: The Island at the Center of the World. His most recent work, published in October 2008, is Descartes' Bones, which traces the wanderings of the literal skull and bones of René Descartes through three and a half centuries, and also traces the metaphorical remains of the French philosopher in the modern world.
A 1981 gradua
More about Russell Shorto...

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“It was possible, as far as they knew, that the western shore, which in fifty years’ time would be christened New Jersey, was in fact the backdoor of China, that India, with its steamy profusion of gods and curries, lay just beyond those bluffs.” 1 likes
“Manhattan is where America began.” 1 likes
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